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Review: Doyle and Debbie Show (Royal George Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat


Review: Doyle and Debbie Show (Royal George Theatre)
The Doyle & Debbie Show

Created (book/music/lyrics) by Bruce Arnston 
Royal George Cabaret, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
thru Dec 31  |  tickets: $43-$49   |  more info

Check for half-price tickets 
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An evening of twisted country-fried fun!


Review: Doyle and Debbie Show (Royal George Theatre)


The Royal George Cabaret presents


The Doyle and Debbie Show

Review by Catey Sullivan 

First off, Debbie and Doyle are a pair of top-tier vocalists as at home in the country idiom as North Carolina tobacco juice in a silver plate spittoon. Second thing is, they play everything straight, whether waxing inspirational for the anthemic chorus of “God Loves America Best” or grooving to the rockabilly swing of “(I Ain’t No Homo) But You Sure Look Good to Me.” Doyle (Bruce Arntson) and Debbie (Jenny Littleton) have all the earnest fire power of George Strait delivering the National Anthem at a Tea Party Convocation. But within those impressive vocals and sincere expressions lurk the hearts of master satirists. Their intended target is country music, and all its My Country Right or Wrong/whine-whine-twang-twang-cheat-cheat-bang-bang stereotypes. The result The Doyle and Debbie Show, as hilarious an evening out as you’re apt to find within the confines of musical theatre.

At 90 minutes, The Doyle and Debbie Show lampoons the genre from trailer trash to Nashville royalty, making smart, wildly irreverent and often downright obscene references to everything from stretch pants to the NRA. Think Spinal Tap with a Moon Pie and pork rind aesthetic and you’ve got the idea.

Arntson plays Doyle Mayfield, a washed up rhinestone cowboy who skyrocketed to quasi-fame with the late-1980s tune “Stock Car Love,” was a regional hit in several south central Alabama mid-market regions. Like so many storied country singers, Doyle has been through tough times, battling the bottle, the death of his beloved/abusive father and the demise and/or departure of at least two Debbies prior to his current co-star. As Debbie No. 3, Littleton plays the l’il gal Doyle discovered singing in the Mooney Gap (Tennessee) VFW, a single mother with cleavage that looks like the behind of a really fat baby and three young children who she leaves waiting in the parking lot while she performs.

Arntson’s script – he wrote both the book and the music and lyrics – leaves no country cliché unturned as the ballad of Doyle and Debbie unfolds in all it’s bizarre glory. There is something deliciously wrong with both the lyrics and the narrative. The humor comes when that wrongness is delivered within the utter rightness of the melodies performed by two vocal powerhouses who act like they’re singing Great American Standards. “Snowbanks of Life,” for example, is an achingly delicate ballad about the power of the prostate gland to express enduring love. With its soaring key changes and take-me-home-to-Jesus power notes, “For the Children” is straight out of the Whitney Houston’s I-believe-that-children-are-the-future playbook – except it espouses the sort of child-rearing that’s apt to leave the kids brain-dead derelict emotional cripples.

As Debbie, Littleton is – like the show’s content itself – delightfully off, reminiscent of a subtly cross-eyed deer-in-the-headlights. When she’s not singing, she’s a split-second too slow on the uptake sometimes, which is perhaps explained in a quick aside having to do with Debbie’s history with Oxycontin. Littleton’s voice is glorious, whether delivering a full-throated belt or a rapid-fire patter song. Arntson’s Doyle is just as strong, bringing down the house with his impossibly rapid-fire “Fat Women in Trailers” and his equally unique yodeling skills. (“You cannot teach yodeling,” Doyle tells the crowd soberly, “It’s a rare gift.”)

The third person on stage is guitarist Matt Carlton, who plays the much-abused backup musician Buddy. When he warns the audience at the outset to turn off their cell phones and please refrain from buying Doyle drinks should they run into him at intermission, well, you know there’s gonna be a five-alarm alcoholic meltdown before the night is out. And so there is, in the one scene that goes just a bit too far into crazytown. (There’s a bloody scalp involved, which is over the top, even for the oeuvre of bedazzled chaps and diamond-studded cowboy boots.)

Throughout, the cast skewers the ultra-conservative, religion-based politics of the Bible Belt (“From the pious in the heartland/to the heathens on the coasts/God spends his riches evenly/to those he loves the most”). Creationists, it is safe to say, might not see some of the humor in The Doyle and Debbie Show. The rest of us should belly up to the bar for an evening of twisted country-fried fun.


Rating: ★★★½



The Doyle and Debbie Show continues through December 31st at The Royal George Cabaret, 1641 N. Halsted (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 5pm.  Tickets are $43.50-$49.50, and are available by phone (312-988-9000) or online at More information at  (Running time: 90 minutes, which includes one intermission)

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